A NSW council’s decision to ban fluoride from town drinking water has been slammed as a dangerous, kneejerk reaction to “scaremongering” lobby groups.
Lismore Council voted 6-4 last week against introducing fluoride into its water supply, despite Australian health authorities, the World Health Organisation and dozens of scientific studies recommending its use to reduce tooth decay and dental disease.
Lismore’s decision has now prompted Ballina Shire Council to reassess its stance on the issue, with a debate expected at tomorrow night’s meeting.
It follows a Sunday Telegraph report earlier this week showing dental decay in children was at its highest level since water fluoridation was introduced, due to the increased consumption of bottled non-fluoridated water.
Australian Dental Association spokesman Dr Michael Foley said councils were falling victim to “highly co-ordinated, passionate and highly effective” anti-fluoridation activists.
“Most councils don’t have much expertise when it comes to public health and the weighing up of scientific evidence,” he said.
“It just gobsmacks me when a council will listen to a scaremongering campaign from people who I would very kindly call fringe groups, and then they go running scared.
“I don’t want to hammer councils … but these decisions are just dumb.”
Dr Foley cited almost 60 studies over the past 20 years across the globe, all of which concluded fluoride in water was beneficial for human health.
“Most of them showed a reduction in tooth decay of between 20 and 60 per cent, so we are talking major benefits,” he said.
The issue has been hotly debated in many regional council areas in NSW, including in Port Macquarie, where lobbyists called unsuccessfully last year for a public referendum on the issue.
Detractors claim it is the equivalent of mandatory mass-medication and that fluoride is a poison that causes cancer and a range of other health issues.
However, Dr Foley said there was no credible evidence to back up those claims.
Further, the Cancer Council and other health organisations supported fluoride in water.
Lismore voted in 2006 to introduce fluoride to its drinking water but delays due to court challenges have stalled the move.
Mayor Jenny Dowell, who has been involved in health and education her entire working life, was one of the four pro-fluoride councillors, said it was a decision that should be made by state government, not local councils.
“Councillors have been left to the ravages of the very strongly connected anti-fluoride lobby,” she said.
“This is a health issue, it shouldn’t be a local government issue.”
“I have worked in Melbourne, which has had fluoride for more than five generations, and then I’ve come up here and seen very young children taken to hospital to have all their baby teeth removed because they’ve just got little brown stumps and can’t eat or speak properly.”
NSW Health chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said surveys suggested most people in Lismore and other northern rivers towns supported fluoridation.
She is expected to brief Ballina councillors this morning in an attempt to convince them to vote down tomorrow’s anti-fluoride proposal.
“The benefits are clear in terms of the prevention of tooth decay,” she said.
Most Australian city and town water supplies have been fluoridated for 25-50 years.
An estimated 96 per cent of the NSW population drinks water with fluoride added.
However, a Sydney Water spokesman said the amount added was minuscule.
“In NSW, water is fluoridated at one part per million,” he said.
“We regularly check drinking water quality through an extensive sampling program to ensure our drinking water supply meets the Australian drinking water guidelines.”
Dr Foley said any council’s decision to ban fluoride in water would cost the entire NSW community due to the consequent need for increased dental and hospital care.